Film is dead. Long live film! A look at the future of the past (video)
posted Friday, November 2, 2012 at 2:56 PM EDT
I stumbled across Carlos Martinelli's short video called "Film Not Yet Dead" (embedded below) which takes a look at the shrinking world of New York City photographers who are devoted to shooting film and believe it's inherently better than digital. Quickly I realized the video was less about the battle between analog and digital photography, and more about loss. It's similar to what we feel when a new Wal-Mart closes Main Street shops. Sure, the Wal-Mart has more stuff at lower prices, but we have lost something of ourselves in the process as the old way is replaced by the new.
Speaking of which, in the opening scenes of the video, we see one of these film fanatics walking along the NYC waterfront shooting with a Mamiya C220 twin lens reflex. I sighed at this, for it reminded me of my own walks around the edges of the city with my old C220. Rolleiflexes could not focus closer than a meter, but the far cheaper Mamiya with its accordion bellows could take you nose-to-nose with your subject. I love its flexibility and interchangeable lenses, but I digress.
Signs of the past growing scarce
Shortly thereafter, we dissolve to a NYC street shot of K & M Camera. I think my heart stopped for a moment at the sight of this place. By golly, it's a camera store that specializes in film. The shelves are full of papers and chemicals and enlargers -- an old-school photographer's wonderland. I grew up in NYC, and in the 1970s there were dozens of these hole-in-the-wall-shops like K & M. They were my second homes. And now they are few and far between.
As a working photographer, my transition to digital was driven by the demands of my clients. I gave up shooting film professionally when the folks who paid the bills started demanding only digital images. I certainly did not give up film completely. However, as the years went on, the darkroom materials and services -- film, chemicals and labs -- became scarcer. While New York City is big enough to sustain a handful of analog photo labs and camera shops, few other communities can.
Throughout the video, we are constantly told that film is better than digital, and it makes some sense that a professor at the International Center for Photography in NYC has her students work with film as an introduction to the fundamentals of photogaphy. That's a smart, inspired approach.
Is film photography more serious?
But my hackles went up when well-known professional photographer Elliott Erwitt said what's missing from digital photography is a sense of "seriousness." Analog photography is better, he says, because it requires a more serious approach. After all, he notes, having a mere 36 exposures to a roll, you have to think before you shoot. (For a man who has produced dozens of humorous photo books of grab shots of the lives of dogs shot taken at dog level, seriousness is an odd choice of terms.)
I am a street shooter, and I couldn't disagree more with Elliot. I used to shoot a lot with a Leica CL. Today I shoot with a Fujifilm X10. Has this made me a worse photographer, somehow less thoughtful or serious? The answer is an emphatic "No!"
I don’t buy the either/or game of film versus digital. There is no need to see the world of photography in terms of black or white, right or wrong, good or evil. Film and digital are both incredible tools available to photographers today. You can use either (or, like me, both) to express your artistic vision as you see fit. What matters, as Erwitt says, is that you approach your work seriously. No matter the medium.